A Brief History of the Baja 1000

The Baja 1000 off-road desert race is one of the most dangerous off-road races. Ever. It’s claimed lives and countless vehicles. It’s a rite of passage for many drivers, racers, and adventures. There are several classes from motorcycles to pickup trucks. And it’s raced over about 1,200 miles of desert trails on the Baja Peninsula.

It’s an outrageous feat even to finish the Baja 1000. The historic roots of this intense off-road challenge go deep. The first official Baja was held in 1967, but it’s probable that its unofficial beginning was a fear years before that fateful day.

Who started the Baja 1000?

an extreme military grade off-road buggy tumbling through the desert sand
A Desert Patrol Vehicle rides over soft sand | Jim Sugar/Corbis via Getty Images

According to BajaBound.com, there is a likely story for the true beginning of the Baja 1000 off-road desert race. If we go back to the Ekins brothers, who lived in Los Angeles, it all started in 1962. There was a Hollywood stuntman and motorcycle racer named Bud Ekins. Legend has it that American Honda went to Ekins and asked him to ride over a grueling route in order to “test the durability of their new CL72 Scrambler.”

Bed Ekins thought the best test would be to time a 950 mile route from Tijuana to La Paz. This is a challenge that is, at best, not for the faint of heart. At worst, it’s the type of desert trail run that could kill you. It’s one of the most insane challenges ever conceived of for both the rider and the machine. Two other men––Bud’s brother and a Honda dealership owner named Bill Robertson Jr.––agreed to ride along with Bud for the test.

A Ford Baja Raptor racing through a desert terrain.
A truck racing through the desert | Jose Manuel Alvarez Rey/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The first ever official Baja off-road race

According to History Garage, the first ever off-road Baja race had it’s first official start back in 1967. However, at that point they called it the Mexican 1000. The name Baja 1000 stuck later. The “grandfather of off-road racing” Ed Pearlman––famed for putting together the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA)––and Don Francisco organized the first Baja or ‘Mexican’ 1000.

“This epic endurance event has developed into a sort of a mix between Mad Max, the Dakar Rally and The Twilight Zone, attracting hundreds of racing legends, thrill-seekers, movie stars and rank amateurs to Northern Mexico to take on the longest non-stop point-to-point race in the world.”

James Roberts | Red Bull
2021 Bronco R Prototype Baja 1000 | Ford-001
2021 Bronco R Prototype Baja 1000 | Ford

Can anyone race the Baja?

The Baja 1000 off-road desert race gave rise to many legends. Over the years we’ve seen names like Johnny Campbell, Rod Hall, Walker Evans, Parnelli Jones, and the McMillins. You can’t leave out Larry Roeseler, J.N. Roberts, Malcolm Smith, Bill Stroppe, or the father and son team Bob and Robby Gordon. It’s called to Steve McQueen and Mario Andretti. Then there is Ivan “Ironman” Stewert, who most would say is the most famous Baja racer in the history of the race.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sleds racing in the Mint 400
Ducati Scrambler Desert Sleds | Ducati

What Happened to the Telluride Off-Road Edition?

But you don’t have to be one of these impressive names to race the Baja. In fact, you don’t even have to be a professional of any sort. Man Tripping confirms that you don’t need to be anybody to be in the Baja. Anyone can race. You just need a car and an entry fee. Oh––and one skip shy of a death wish. Because just because you start, doesn’t mean you’ll finish.